Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 4, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Taste, Titans, and a Wimpy Kid
We eat out rather often, and still we manage to miss out on many a restaurant.
We keep meaning to try them, but they simply don't come to mind the way old
favorites do when we're deciding where to have dinner.
Here's a way to get a sample of many restaurants, all on the same evening
-- and support local arts education at the same time. Weaver Center is
sponsoring "Taste of the Town Downtown" on Monday, April 12th, from 6:00
to 9:00 p.m. at the Cultural Arts Center at 200 North Davie Street.
After paying a $5.00 entry fee (think of it as a cover charge), you buy "taste
tickets" for $1.00 each (children under six can snack for free), enabling you to
sample the signature dishes and appetizers from many of Greensboro's best
Basil's & Co.
Brixx Wood Fired Pizza
Five Guys Burgers
Kiosco Mexican Grill
Phoenix Asian Cusine
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
Taste of Thai
Some of them are already favorites of ours; others I've never even heard of, so
I'm looking forward to making their acquaintance. There will also be live
entertainment all evening.
You can pay at the door, or order you entry tickets online at
www.fundthefringeforweaver.com. The restaurants are all donating their food
and their service to help benefit the theatre department at Weaver Education
Center, Guilford County's performing arts high school.
I, for one, hope this turns into an annual event.
If ever there was a movie that epitomized cheesy entertainment, it was the
1981 myth-mucker Clash of the Titans, starring Harry Hamlin, who went on to
fame as the good-looking L.A. Lawyer who provided a love interest for Susan
So when I heard that Clash of the Titans was being remade -- in 3D -- I
naturally leapt to the conclusion that this was pure money-making cynicism.
Well, of course it is. But that doesn't mean it has to be bad. After all, Twister,
a cynical project if there ever was one, turned out to be so well written and well
acted that it's now one of my favorite movies -- the epitome of a vivid ensemble
Clash does not achieve the same status -- it won't be among my top hundred
or even two hundred movies. But my fifteen-year-old and I discovered the
other night that it was great fun to watch.
We shunned the 3D showings, however, and opted for normal 2D. For me, the
special effects work better when my attention isn't being called to the
technology. Instead, we simply experienced the computer-generated monsters
and remained focused on the characters' peril.
Since I never saw Avatar or Terminator Salvation, I was unfamiliar with the
work of actor Sam Worthington, who plays Perseus. His absolutely wooden
acting made me wish for somebody as expressive as Jean-Claude Van Damme.
I wondered briefly if Worthington existed at all, thinking that perhaps he was a
creation of the CGI masters who made Avatar, and now they were jobbing him
around Hollywood as a puppet-like replacement for those pesky human actors,
with their expensive trailers and drug habits and opinions.
But no, he's actually human, and later in the movie he actually had three
Apart from Worthington's severe limitations as an actor, and Liam Neeson's
humiliatingly overblown (and badly written) Zeus, the rest of the cast members
were superb. Ralph Fiennes as Hades, the god of the underworld, was great
fun to watch as he chewed the scenery and made faces for the camera, while a
collection of character actors gave the script a believability and entertainment
value it did not deserve.
I would give individual praise to several of these actors, if only I had any idea
what their character names were, or if more of them had pictures in the
Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB.com) so I could recognize them.
The plot makes hash of the mythology, and at times it might be taken as an
anti-religious screed, a sort of "take the gods out of heaven, they're not doing a
good job" sort of atheism. But serious meanings are simply not to be found;
rather, the scriptwriters simply bent the mythological sources to fit utterly
unoriginal Hollywood cliches and film-school "rules."
The resulting film had no business being so much fun to watch. If you have no
higher goal than to "go to the movies," then Clash of the Titans will not waste
your ticket money. It's sad that this achievement puts a movie into the top half
of Hollywood releases, but it's true.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is making good money at the box office, because it's a
good movie. Yes, it's set in middle school -- but that's actually kind of
unusual. Most school-centered kid flicks are set in high school, and deal with
cliques, sex, and social wrangling. The best of them -- mostly by the late John
Hughes -- can be very good, but the rest are pretty much twaddle.
This is a middle-school movie, which deals with the most hellish experience of
many kids' lives. It's the time when the pressure to conform is at its most
intense, while puberty's varying arrival times scatter pre-puberty dwarfs among
the hairy booby giants.
The "wimpy kid" of the title, Greg Heffley (played by the luminous Zachary
Gordon), is just such a dwarf. He arrives in sixth grade full of ambition to be
the coolest kid in the school, though without height, excellence at anything,
personal integrity, courage, or a brain in his head, it's hard to imagine how he
can achieve anything.
Even when he's given real opportunities -- an invitation to take part in the
school paper; a chance to show off his genuine singing talent in a school play
-- he blows them off or blows them up.
Mostly, though, the story is about friendship -- and what a lousy friend Greg
Heffley is. He and pudgy-kid Rowley Jefferson (the exuberant Robert Capron)
are longtime friends, but because Rowley is always himself, oblivious to what
will make a good impression on the "cool" kids, blurting out whatever comes to
mind, Greg is constantly humiliated to be associated with him.
The result is that Rowley actually becomes accepted and popular, while Greg
quickly descends to true pariah status. And here's where this story differs
from most school comedies: We completely agree with the kids who come to
regard Greg Heffley as the scum of the earth.
This movie brings off the same amazing story effect that I've hitherto seen
achieved by only two movies: My Best Friend's Wedding and the 2009 BBC
miniseries Emma (not the Gwyneth Paltrow disaster). The hero of the movie is
completely in the wrong, deserves to lose, does lose, but we like him or her
The director and many writers of this film did a decent (and therefore way-above-average) job of preserving some elements of the original book without
weakening the movie. We get lots of drawings from the titular diary, and plenty
of the main character's fantasies. At the same time -- always a danger with
literary adaptations -- many of the weaknesses of the book are exposed.
But the excellent casting lets us sail over such flaws. Not only are Zachary
Gordon and Robert Capron wonderful young actors, but the cast has depth.
Longtime child actress Chloë Grace Moretz is wonderfully wise and enigmatic
as the newspaper editor who serves as the observer and judge of all people in
And Devon Bostick, as Greg's older brother Rodrick, is simply brilliant. He
steals every scene he's in (which is hard to do, given Zachary Gordon's
charisma). He is quickly established as Greg's tormentor-in-chief -- but he
also gives him useful and truthful advice for how to survive in middle school:
Say nothing, do nothing to call attention to yourself, sign up for nothing, and
whoever you sit with at lunch on the first day, you'll be stuck with for the rest
of middle school.
My fifteen-year-old, having come (alive) out of middle school only a couple of
years ago, affirmed the wisdom of this advice -- and the truthfulness of the
Meanwhile, however, Devon Bostick's character is not just a set of cliches, like
the older brother (Bill Paxton) in Weird Science, who exists only to get his
comeuppance. Rodrick's comeuppance does take place, engineered by his little
brother -- but in the scene where their mother confronts Rodrick with a semi-porn magazine in front of his awful garage band in mid-practice, Bostick gives
a nuanced, dead-on performance of fake contrition and genuine humiliation.
I want to see Bostick in leading roles for the next thirty or forty years. (Since
this would have me nearing 100 years of age, I dare not wish for more.)
Even Greg's baby brother Manny, played by the twins Connor and Owen
Fielding, is wonderful. It's hard to get good performances out of babies, but
these twins are miraculously good.
Don't think of this as a kids' movie. There are plenty of those -- and too many
of them are the kind of film that if you are over twelve -- in age or I.Q. -- you
will seriously think about killing yourself before the thing is over.
When we watched it (on Tuesday night, the 7:20 showing at the Grande in
Friendly Center), the audience consisted of my fifteen-year-old and me, plus a
good-natured college student who -- from what we saw as we waited behind
him while he bought his ticket -- didn't much care what he saw that night.
Ten minutes into the movie, a group of elderly people came in. Not one middle
schooler in the audience. Nobody walked out. And my daughter and I had a
I guess what I'm saying is that this movie aspires to, and largely achieves, what
John Hughes brought off with most of his high school movies -- it's truthful
enough that you don't have to be the same age as the characters in order to
enjoy the film.
I remember going to see John Hughes's The Breakfast Club when I was 33
years old. My memories of high school were more vivid than I recalled, and
even though none of the characters in the movie reflected my experience, I had
known people who had some of their attitudes. It rang true. It resonated.
Wimpy Kid is not as iconic as Breakfast Club, but it has the same ring of truth,
and transcends age. It's worth seeing.
If only for the cheese. (Literally -- a slice of cheese left out on the playground.)
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Thursday, April 8 -- Direct Election of Senators
In 1913, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, changing the method of
electing U.S. Senators. Until then, state legislatures chose their states' Senators, a process that
was notoriously corrupt in many states. In the midst of a movement toward greater democracy
(primary elections were becoming popular), and in the wake of a scandal involving the selection
of William Lorimer, a Republican Illinois political boss, in 1909. Sen. Albert Beveridge, a
Republican from Indiana, single-handedly led a movement to repudiate Lorimer's selection
because of convincing evidence of bribery, which exposed the whole system of election-by-legislature to public shame.
Friday, April 9 -- Lee's Surrender
At 1:30 p.m. on this day in 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union
General Ulysses S. Grant at the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court
House, Virginia. While there was some continued resistance, it was clear to most that the
Confederate cause had failed and the remaining Confederate armies soon followed Lee's
example -- especially because the terms of surrender Grant gave to Lee's army were generous,
signaling a real desire to return to peace.
Saturday, April 10 -- National Siblings Day
In a country where people move so much, and families can so easily be fragmented, that
siblings sometimes lose track of each other, this celebration offers a chance to reconnect with
brothers and sisters, and to express appreciation to each other for the contribution made to each
Sunday, April 11 -- National Library Week begins
Our nation's high degree of literacy owes much to the free library movement that gave
ordinary people easy access to a wide range of books. While we often take libraries for granted,
it is hard to think of a government service that provides so much benefit to society as a whole,
for so little cost. Why not go visit a local library branch?
Monday, April 12 -- National Licorice Day
On this day in 1955, the development of a "safe, potent, and effective" vaccine against polio
(or "infantile paralysis") was announced. Developed by a team headed by American physician
Dr. Jonas E. Salk, the vaccine led to a 95 percent decline in the dreaded disease.
This is also Henry Clay's birthday. Kentuckian Clay served in both the U.S. Senate and the
House of Representatives, where he became Speaker of the House. He was a war hawk who
help draw the U.S. into the War of 1812, then helped hold the union together by brokering
compromises in 1820 (the "Missouri Compromise") and 1850 between slave and free states. In
the election of 1824, there was only one party -- the "National Republican Party" (now called
the Democratic Party). Clay was one of four candidates seeking the presidency, and when the
two leaders -- John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson -- tied, he used his clout in the House
of Representatives to throw the election to Adams. Adams subsequently appointed Clay as
secretary of state, leading to charges that they had made a "corrupt bargain" in advance (but
there is no reason to think that either Clay or Adams made their choices on any other basis than
compatibility of views and mutual respect). Later, Clay helped form the Whig Party in order to
oppose Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party.
Tuesday, April 13 -- National Be Kind to Lawyers Day
Give the lawyer jokes a rest. I bet there are a lot fewer bad lawyers than bad businessmen,
bad teachers, bad politicians, or bad fiction writers. My life, and the lives of many of my friends
and family members, would have been a lot harder if we had not had the help and advice of good
In 1742, in Dublin, Ireland, Handel's oratorio Messiah premiered. Handel himself sat at the
harpsichord and conducted the first concert of his masterpiece. Since Handel was already a
popular composer, the concert was expected to be packed -- the newspapers asked ladies not to
wear hoop skirts and gentlemen not to wear swords, so that 700 people could fit into a hall
designed for 600.
Wednesday, April 14 -- Abraham Lincoln's assassination
In 1865, at the moment when the bitter Civil War was finally ending, President Abraham
Lincoln, who had long campaigned for the end of slavery and determinedly fought (against
savage political opposition) to pursue the war until complete victory forced the South to abandon
both independence and slavery, was murdered by a diehard southern sympathizer, John Wilkes
Booth, as Lincoln watched the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington,
*Based on information in Chase's Calendar of Events. See http://sn.im/chases. (Full URL: